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Is 222 a lucky number when it’s on a Maserati?

“222?!? Never heard of it. Is that even a Maserati?”. Sure it is. In good and in bad. 

I am not supersticious. You know, like certain people insisting on wearing their driving gloves inside out and that sort of thing. But then again: There are SO many stories about the Maserati Biturbo and what goes wrong with them, that I sometimes think that no amount of voodoo rituals could ever keep a Biturbo going. In a response to that, Maserati changed the name to a number! Many years later that raises the question, whether 222 is a lucky number.

Launched to general acclaim in 1981 during the ownership stint of the incredibly enterprising Alejandro De Tomaso, he must have been proud as the new “little” Maserati really had much going for it. In a package the size and approximate shape af the coming BMW E30, the Biturbo offered much more exotic specifications (in case you did not know nor have guessed it by now: It features not one turbo – which would in itself have been somewhat unusual in 1981 – but no less than two of these power inducing magic contraptions) as well as a more exuberant style – not least in the rather sumptuous cabin.

1981: The Biturbo was intended to sell in much larger numbers than any Maserati before it.

Unfortunately the execution of the concept was not without faults and the Biturbo quickly gained a reputation for less than impressive reliability and a plethora of smaller (and sometimes larger) niggles along the way. One of the basic issues was the use of carburettors which may in fact be the lowliest aspect of the Biturbo overall. But then again, it WAS built down to a price never before achieved by a Maserati and you can’t have it all, can you? So although initially rather popular, the Biturbo fell into general disgrace which is not good for a mass market seller, and Maserati appropriately set to upgrade the car.

As the name Biturbo had at that time become somewhat notorious it was changed too.

The new-for-1988 222 featured several important improvements from the original Biturbo.

The new model was called “222” – lacking in caché compared to “Biturbo”, perhaps, but supposed to be just as meaningful. Supposed. As this is clearly not the case, I’ll pass on the official explanation: 222 was for 2-door, 2-liter and 2. generation.

More importantly, the 222 did however contain several important improvements over the Biturbo. However, there were six different variants of the 222, and it would actually lead too far to attempt covering them all. Therefore, I’ll stick to the first from 1988 – among other things also because it is the one I like best. It is judged by appearance also the closest to the original, pure and simple Biturbo from 1981 – and that’s a good thing, I believe: It was after all never the appearance that was the problem anyway.

It was rather that this Maserati had been conceived in order to bring Maserati down the market, and was therefore built with a sharp eye on cost. I presume those two turbochargers, the opulent interior, as well as the exotic three-valve-per-cylinder head soaked up a lot of the build cost, and as already mentioned Maserati could not stretch to fuel injection. Nor to build the cars to a very high standard. The carburettors further contributed to some of the problems. Just as it would lead too far to cover alle the model variants, it would also lead too far to cover all of the horror stories.

In short, let’s just conclude that although the Biturbo was the size of a BMW E30 3-series, looked more expensive (and was more expensive), it was also much less good at actually being usable as a car.

The overall lines were the same as the Biturbo, and also the 222 featured a lovely presence on the road – as if the car was ready to pounce at any moment.

And the 222 adressed that. At least the part of being “much less” good. It’s probably fair to say that the 222 was still inferior to the BMW in build quality, but it was, conversely, much better than the Biturbo. As I said, I like the original, but if this was to be a choice out in the real world – and maybe it will – I would sacrifice the earlier cleaner design for the upgraded technology. Speed devils will also be delighted that the 222 is faster, but I consider this a side effect of the improvement. More importantly, the 222 as a classic today is probably also cheaper.

Unbelievably, maybe: Better car for less money? Yes please, I’ll have some of that.

The worst aspect of the new and improved car was to my eyes the rear spoiler. Unbecoming, I’d say.

But does that make the 222 good enough to live with for more than the briefest of moments? Merely as a thought experiment, let’s say for one summer where the driving should include a holiday trip to France or Italy.

Well, that is a good question: I think I have become more tolerant again most recently (I do drive a Jaguar XJ12, after all), so I do actually believe in it – as an idea, at least. Well, recently I’ve even found myself surfing Maserati Biturbo 222 ads.

The interior of the 222 I really, really like. No wonder, is it?

All these thoughts stem from seeing the car below, which was for sale at the Retro Classic in Cologne. It was actually very nice indeed, and that taken into account, the price seemed fair. But it was a first generation Biturbo, carburettors and all, so I was just looking.

However, I just know that I must have a Maserati at one point, as it is simply my favorite marque of all times. And it is equally indisputable that a Biturbo variant is the cheapest entry ticket into this great Italian history.

A 1985 Biturbo with only 64.000 kilometers and in very fine shape? It was for sale in Cologne for 19,000 Euro – which seems to be OK for such a car.

But is it a poor entry for this once (and now again) luxurious, grandiose and successful prestige marque? No, I really don’t think it is: See the Biturbo as a modern version of Alfa Romeo’s legendary Bertone coupé and it all makes sense.

And when did you last see one anyway? I certainly feel ready to be seen in one myself.


7 Responses

  1. Anders Bilidt

    Claus, I’m with you all the way on this one!
    I am perfectly aware of all the horror stories which follow the Biturbo, but I just don’t care… I have always loved the subtle styling of the car, and like you I would love to own a Maserati at some point in my life.
    Like you, I actually also prefer the original Biturbo, but I equally worry a little about the carb set-up and all the other quality issues they had. As such, I think it’s a wise choice to opt for a slightly later car. The 222 is indeed an excellent option, though I would personally go for a first series 2.24v preferably in red over anthracite grey – and with a manual transmission of course! Mmmmmm….aserati….

  2. Claus Ebberfeld

    Aargh, now you put another one into my head, @anders-bilidt : I thought I was totally resolved in this complicated matter!

    But then again: “4.24” is even more stupid than “222” as a name. And the side skirts…don’t you think I have enough side skirts in my life?!?

  3. Anders Bilidt

    No no Claus, not “4.24” – that’s a four door saloon. And if we’re going there, then I’d rather have the “430”.
    The one I want is still a two door, hence it’s called the “2.24v”.
    Of course there’s also the “228”, but the styling on that one is a bit heavy handed. To my eyes, that’s the ugliest of the whole Biturbo family…

  4. Tony Wawryk

    Hmm…on the Biturbo I have to disagree with both my esteemed ViaRETRO colleagues – for me, it’s a completely uninspiring design, and a Maserati should be inspiring. This is all straight lines and no elegance, no character. The late ’80’s and 90’s were a lost decade for Maserati design, in my view. How they could give the 1990’s Ghibli the same name as the brilliant original car is beyond me, and they didn’t make another interesting car until 1998 with the 3200GT, and it’s fabulous “boomerang” tail lights.

  5. Claus Ebberfeld

    Well, the Eighties were almost a lost decade in general, @tony-wawryk, not only for Maserati.

    From a design point of view I find the very comparable BMW E30 even less inspiring than the Biturbo and derivates thereof.

    Of premium cars in that smaller size the Mercedes 190E stands
    out, though . And not many cars wore their plastic body kits as well as the little Mercedes

    , my mistake – I meant the 2.24, not the 4.24. You can have that for your self.


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